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Rank of ‘Unchurched’ Nearly Doubled Since 1991

The number of “unchurched” Americans has nearly doubled since 1991, according to a recent survey by The Barna Group.

Thirty-four percent of U.S. adults say they have not attended a Christian church service–other than a holiday service or a special event like a wedding or a funeral–in the last six months, according to the survey. Just 21 percent said so in 1991.

That means 75 million Americans now belong to the ranks of the unchurched, up from 39 million in 1991. That is a 92 percent increase. By comparison, the total U.S. adult population grew during that same time by 15 percent.

Men comprise about 55 percent of the unchurched, even though they make up less than half of the nation’s population.

The unchurched are also younger than the norm. The median age of the unchurched is 38, while the median age for all Americans is 43.

The unchurched are more likely to be single and never married, and reside most often in the Northeast or West.

People who don’t attend church were less likely than the churched to read the Bible (19 percent compared to 44 percent) and to pray (63 percent versus 83 percent.) They are also less likely to say they have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, though one in six of the unchurched say they are born-again Christians.

“Unchurched people are not just lazy or uninformed,” Barna said, but “are wholly disinterested in church life.”

He said it is unlikely that congregations will reach the unchurched through efforts like “contemporary” worship, but will require that they experience “a life-changing, practical encounter” with Christ. Making that happen will require churches to invent “radically new settings and experiences to effectively introduce unchurched individuals to biblical principles and practices,” he said.

The survey was based on interviews with 1,014 adults conducted in late January and early February. The sampling margin of error is plus-or-minus 3 percent.